Your weekly rundown of news and analysis about the corporate takeover of education, water, and other public goods. Not a subscriber? Subscribe here for free.
- As expected, the election of Gov. Wes Moore (D) has put the kibosh on Gov. Larry Hogan’s toll road ‘public-private partnership’ I-270 toll road plan.
- A small Ohio town voted to keep their firefighters public.
- Privatizing public trees?
First, the good news…
1) National: Donald Cohen and Allen Mikaelian’s “The Privatization of Everything” is now available as an audiobook. “The Privatization of Everything connects the dots across a broad spectrum of issues and raises larger questions about who controls the public things we all rely on, exposing the hidden crisis of privatization that has been slowly unfolding over the last fifty years and giving us a road map for taking our country back.”
Watch Donald Cohen’s keynote address to the Physicians for a National Health Program Annual Meeting in Boston a few weeks ago on The Privatization of Everything (includes Q&A). [Video, about 40 minutes].
2) National: Let’s hear it for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which is one year old. “The legislation is the largest public works bill in U.S. history, authorizing $1.2 trillion in spending and new outlays of $550 billion. It is also highly complex because it serves a wide range of needs. It is principally a transport bill that modernizes roads and bridges, public transit, rail, ports and waterways and airports. But it also expands broadband and wastewater facilities and provides for clean energy.
Because of the size and complexity, it is difficult for the public to understand the mechanics of how the bill works. Accordingly, The Brookings Institution launched the Federal Infrastructure Hub earlier this year to track how the legislation is being implemented. It provides practitioners, researchers, journalists and others a single place to view every program the law funds.”
3) National/Mississippi: The Jackson, Mississippi, city council has approved an agreement with the EPA to establish federal oversight of long-term water crisis solutions. “In response to complaints from Jackson residents and the NAACP, the EPA is conducting a federal civil rights investigation to determine whether the Mississippi Department of Health and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality “discriminated against the majority Black population of the City of Jackson on the basis of race in the funding of water infrastructure and treatment programs and activities.”
The city remains under a state of emergency regarding its water systems until November 22.”
Details of the agreement have yet to be approved. The Clarion-Ledger reports*: “‘We are still researching whether or not we can disclose it to the public before it is actually filed in court records,’ Jackson City Attorney Torri Martin told the council. ‘It will become part of our record, once the minutes are approved.’ City Council president Ashby Foote was disappointed with the need to go into executive session. ‘I apologize that we won’t be able to give the public this information today,’ Foote said. ‘It is one of the most significant items we have brought before the council in a long time. I am disappointed we have to do this behind closed doors.’”
*For some reason this Clarion-Ledger story was put into the entertainment section of Yahoo News.
4) National: Borrowing to backfill public pensions is making a comeback, Route Fifty reports. “Last year, debt for pensions made a big comeback. More than 110 governments issued bonds to pay off pension liabilities, totaling nearly $13 billion in new debt, according to data compiled by Municipal Market Analytics. It’s more than double the issuance compared with recent years and the highest total since 2003, according to Bloomberg. Roughly one-third of issuances came from California, where localities have seen rising pension costs for years following adjustments that the state’s biggest pension agency made to its investment return assumptions. The top issuers were Orange County, Santa Ana, Huntington Beach and Chula Vista, which combined for more than $1.6 billion in pension bonds.”
5) Florida: A Florida judge has blocked Gov. Ron DeSantis’ anti-woke law for colleges, calling it “positively dystopian.” Read the 138-page order (PDF). The first part, which quotes George Orwell, follows:
“‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,’ and the powers in charge of Florida’s public university system have declared the State has unfettered authority to muzzle its professors in the name of ‘freedom.’ To confront certain viewpoints that offend the powers that be, the State of Florida passed the so-called ‘Stop W.O.K.E.’ Act in 2022—redubbed (in line with the State’s doublespeak) the ‘Individual Freedom Act.’ The law officially bans professors from expressing disfavored viewpoints in university classrooms while permitting unfettered expression of the opposite viewpoints. Defendants argue that, under this Act, professors enjoy ‘academic freedom’ so long as they express only those viewpoints of which the State approves. This is positively dystopian.” (…_
He concludes, “State of Florida’s decision to choose which viewpoints are worthy of illumination and which must remain in the shadows has implications for us all. If our ‘priests of democracy’ are not allowed to shed light on challenging ideas, then democracy will die in darkness. But the First Amendment does not permit the State of Florida to muzzle its university professors, impose its own orthodoxy of viewpoints, and cast us all into the dark.”
6) Maine: Maine’s solution to beach barriers? Buying land for public use. “State agencies and land trusts in Maine have pushed back against privatization, acquiring more than a dozen beaches over the last four years alone and mandating they be open to all members of the public. Maine has also helped some of its coastal communities research historic deeds and identify public access rights to the coastline.” Will Massachusetts be next?
7) Ohio: Belpre Township Trustees vote to keep their firefighters public. “Welch said the firefighters will have to make a proposal to the Decatur Trustees in order for the township to receive fire service. The Belpre Township Trustees plan to meet at the Little Hocking Fire Department on Nov. 28 for an update on the situation, and to hear a response if the freighters have decided to resign.” All firefighters would be paid minimum wage under the proposal.
8) Oregon: “By passing Ballot Measure 111,” Jeffrey St. Clair reports, “Oregon became the first state to make health care a constitutional right, giving every Oregonian a right to ‘cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care.’”
9) Texas: Austin voters have approved a whopping $3.56 billion of general obligation bonds in the Nov. 8 election. The approval covers “$2.44 billion for the Austin Independent School District, $770 million for the Austin Community College District, and $350 million for the city. Rating analysts said rising property values will help make the debt manageable, particularly if issuance is spread over multiple years.” Austin ISD Chief Financial Officer Eduardo Ramos reported that “this year our property values grew 18%.” [Sub required]
10) National/Michigan: Michigan conservatives have voted to defund a local library over LGBTQ books, Donald Cohen of In the Public Interest reports. “This might be about one library in one small town, but it highlights a key fact about our political moment. Conservatives might be confused about what to do about Trump and the 2024 election, but they have a plan. They know that to achieve their vision of America, they have to destabilize, weaken, and even destroy the institutions that give a voice to people who don’t agree with their vision. They know that they have to contend for power over public institutions.” And “it’s also why those of us who have a different vision—a more democratic, accepting, compassionate vision, where all of us can thrive and be free—need to protect and expand our public institutions.
11) Maine: Writing in The Maine Monitor, Edward French reports that public funding of Maine’s private schools is raising accountability concerns. “Bill Mathis, who lives in Goshen, Vt., is the national president of the Horace Mann League, an honorary association of leaders who promote the public school system, and is the former managing director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado. As a former Vermont school superintendent, he notes that private schools object to having the public looking at their accounting records, but he says, “If you’re going to slop at the public trough, you’re going to have to play by the public rules. If you’re going to take public monies, you need to be accountable for it. Otherwise, you don’t have a democracy anymore.””
12) Massachusetts: Lawfare is being used to attack and undermine our public schools and intimidate staff, says Maurice T. Cunningham, the author of Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization. “Parents Defending Education isn’t after legal recourse; it’s after harassment. Wellesley School Superintendent David Lussier said he has received “obscene” and “awful” e-mails from people connected to the group. In December 2021, the Globe reported that two Black school principals in Newton had received “racist and confrontational” messages after the right-wing publisher Breitbart published an article misrepresenting how the principals’ schools were handling lessons about the verdicts in the trials of Kyle Rittenhouse and the men convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery. Breitbart’s story was framed by Parents Defending Education.”
13) Mississippi: Jeff Bryant of Our Schools reports on how underinvestment in the City of Jackson’s public schools was met head on by creating and developing community schools. “As I reported for the Progressive magazine in 2018, BTC was formed as an alternative to a takeover of the district by the state after an audit by the Mississippi Department of Education found a significant number of state regulatory violations by the district. Fearing state takeover would lead to schools being handed over to charter school management groups—which is what happened in New Orleans, Newark, and other majority-Black school districts—a coalition called Our JPS quickly formed to oppose the takeover and demand an alternative approach to improving the public school system.”
14) Missouri: Community members are protesting against the privatization of custodial positions on the UM campus. “Local labor groups are concerned that moving towards privatization will divide custodial workers and undermine their ability to collectively bargain. (…) Full-time MU employees are eligible to organize under a union called Local Laborers (LiUNA) 955. According to Andrew Hutchinson, the Public Employees Field Representative, LiUNA 955 has always stood against privatization. ‘Public sector jobs carry with them usually good retirement benefits, decent health insurance, decent wages,’ Hutchinson said. ‘With privatizing [sic] or outsourcing, the goal is almost always to save money. And if you’re saving money, the cuts have to come somewhere. That usually comes in the form of worse working conditions, worse wages and worse benefits.”
15) Oregon: An irate mob concerned about LGBTQ-affirming books in libraries, gender identity being taught in the classroom and a dismal Department of Education report stormed a North Clackamas school board meeting in late Octoberand threatened privatization. [Watch the meeting. About an hour.]
“It’s a disturbing pattern, and one that should concern all of us. School board members are volunteers, trying to chart a better course for young people,” said Alex Pulaski, a spokesperson for the Oregon School Boards Association. “We can agree or disagree with their decisions, but there’s no excuse for harassing them or targeting them with threats.”
The Oregon School Boards Association “has set aside the month of January to honor the unpaid elected volunteers who serve on Oregon’s 197 local school boards, our 19 education service district boards, and our 17 community college boards. These dedicated local leaders give their personal time and energy to handling the critical tasks of budgeting and overseeing the management of Oregon’s public education structure.”
16) Vermont: Public financing for school facilities is alive and well, and is cheaper than private financing in a P3. Students displaced by PCBs are to get a new high school as a bond measure passes in Burlington. “District leaders were eager to secure public support for a $165 million bond to pay for the bulk of demolition and construction on a long-awaited new facility. They projected annual tax increases of up to $805 for a home worth $370,000. Slightly more than three-quarters of roughly 16,000 voters supported the measure, according to unofficial results published Wednesday morning on the city of Burlington’s website.” [Sub required]
17) Wisconsin: “The debate over privatization and Wisconsin’s public schools is not going away,” The Wisconsin Examiner’s Ruth Conniff reports. “Last week Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he would be willing to increase funding for public education if Gov. Tony Evers is willing to approve universal school choice—meaning taxpayers would cover private school tuition for anyone who doesn’t want to send her kids to public school.”
18) National: That hardy perennial, infrastructure recycling (a chain reaction form of public works privatization), is again being recycled. The Bond Buyer had a podcast pumping it up yet again. For an antidote see this. The fruits of lobbyist PR on this scheme may be showing up on Capitol Hill any month now.
19) National: In case you missed it, on September 21 the House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing on the resiliency of critical infrastructure, especially water systems. “Committee members’ questions focused on outdated water infrastructure in rural and urban regions, such as the recent water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, and the effects on underserved communities, as well as how cybersecurity, natural disasters, and climate change relate to the problem.” [Video, about two hours].
20) California: The state has created 17,000 infrastructure jobs with support from the Biden Administration. “The influx of federal funding is on top of the unprecedented $47 billion multiyear infrastructure package in California’s state budget to accelerate the transition to zero-emission vehicles, promote energy innovation and reliability, improve access to broadband connectivity, reduce wildfire risk to communities, and support drought resiliency and response. These record levels of state and federal funding investments have already created more than 17,000 jobs.”
21) Maryland: As expected, the election of Gov. Wes Moore (D) has put the kibosh on Gov. Larry Hogan’s toll road ‘public-private partnership’ I-270 toll road plan. “Project opponents seized on the state’s request for federal funding, saying the move contradicted Hogan’s promises that taxpayers would not have to pay for the highway expansions. ‘The whole premise was that tolls would pay for it,’ said Ben Ross, chair of the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition. ‘Now they want federal money to subsidize it.’ Other project opponents said they hope the Moore administration will scrutinize what they believe are flaws in the toll lanes plan and seek more input from local officials. Del. Jared Solomon (D-Montgomery) said he was ‘ecstatic’ about the delay. He said he believes a Moore administration ‘is really committed to engaging with the community and working with local leaders to make sure we get something that works for our communities and, most importantly, works for the taxpayers of Maryland.’” A revised proposal is expected to be submitted in the Spring by Transurban.
22) New York: Construction will begin next year on a so-called public-private partnership to build a $4.2 billion terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport after stakeholders finalized financing and federal environmental approvals. “The redevelopment will largely be financed with a mix of private debt and equity, with the port authority setting aside roughly $2.9 billion for the overall development program. The port authority expects to kick in $130 million for Terminal 6, which spans 1.2 million square feet, features 10 gates, and involves the demolition of Terminal 7 and a connection to JetBlue’s existing Terminal 5. JFK Millennium Partners consists of American Triple 1, a New York-based infrastructure investment manager; developer and manager Vantage Airport Group; New York real estate operating company RXR; and JetBlue. JFK Millennium Partners raised a total of $4.2 billion to fund the project, including $1.3 billion in equity. The terminal will be built in two phases, with the first new gates opening in 2026 and project completion anticipated in 2028. The lease runs through 2060. [On Thursday], the Federal Aviation Administration granted final environmental approval for the Terminal 6 project.” [Sub required]
23) Virginia: The Lancaster school board has scheduled a public hearing for today on the ‘public-private partnership’ agreement between Lancaster County Public Schools (LCPS) and Branch Builds for the construction of a new middle/high school. “The complete agreement can be found at lcs.k12.va.us under PPEA Proposed Comprehensive Agreement. The Public-Private Educational Facilities and Infrastructure Act, also known as PPEA, allows the school division to form a public-private partnership, in this case with Branch Builds and VMDO, both firms working on a new elementary school, to streamline the design and construction of the new middle/high school rather than separate design and construction proposal phases. The comprehensive agreement with Branch Builds among other things, details the exact work to be performed, how the project will proceed and the responsibilities of each party.”
24) International: The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is calling on the federal government “to fundamentally overhaul the mandate of the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) so its focus is to provide low-cost loans to municipalities and Indigenous communities and support only environmentally sustainable projects. (…) CUPE recently released a report on the matter, called A Public Bank for the Public Interest, as the CIB is facing a legally required review of its first five years. The blueprint was prepared by Thomas Marois, a Canadian of Metis ancestry who is a world-leading researcher on public banks and the economy. (…) CUPE is critical of the mandate and wants government to change the bank’s focus. Instead of being driven by private-for-profit investors, the union is recommending the CIB be rebuilt to serve the public interest. ‘The CIB’s focus on expensive private financing, combined with the risks and delays of privatization, have been a recipe for failure,’ notes [CUPE national president Mark Hancock]. ‘A parliamentary committee came to this conclusion in 2021, and many other experts agree.’” A Public Bank for the Public Interest, by Thomas Marois. [28 pp., PDF]
25) National: The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has received a complaint from a former employee claiming “SpaceX illegally fired nine people earlier this year in retaliation for comments critical of founder Elon Musk and the company’s culture,” Bloomberg reports. “The terminated SpaceX workers include authors of an open letter protesting ‘inappropriate, disparaging, sexually charged comments on Twitter’ by Musk, according to the Wednesday filing with the US National Labor Relations Board. The complaint says the workers were fired ‘for engaging in the core concerted protected activity of speaking up against SpaceX’s failure and refusal to address the culture of sexism, harassment and discrimination.’” [Sub required]
26) National: A bipartisan group of Senators has written to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “calling on him to use all tools and authorities at his disposal to protect military families from private housing contractors that are not providing protections guaranteed by the military tenant’s bill of rights. Despite requirements in the fiscal year (FY) 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), five private military housing providers are still failing to implement key rights for military families.”
27) National: To prepare for climate change, states are getting into the weather business. “Thirty-eight states are operating or building networks of weather monitoring stations to provide more precise data than they receive from the National Weather Service. They’re using that information to help spot flash floods, assess wildfire risk, inform farming practices and choose locations for renewable energy projects. The programs are known as mesonets, which are networks that detect weather events spanning 1 to 150 miles. They’re intended to fill the gaps between National Weather Service sites, which can miss localized rain events, wind conditions or air quality issues…”
“Most state mesonets are run in partnership with state universities, but Minnesota operates a network within its Department of Natural Resources. The program, which installed its first station in 2015, now has about 40 monitoring sites, while another state program has additional sites monitoring agricultural conditions.”
28) National: Safe water should be an established human right, writes Farrah Hassen in The Charlotte Post. “Other water privatization attempts, from Pittsburgh in the United States to Bolivia abroad, have led to skyrocketing costs and plummeting quality for vulnerable communities. In the all too recent case of Flint, Michigan, public disinvestment conspired with private corporate interests to deny residents clean water—with catastrophic results. (…) All these water crises demand full accountability. A long-term response is also needed in order to invest in sustainable infrastructure, improve regulatory oversight, and remove unjust barriers to ensure safe, clean, and affordable water access for all. Fundamentally, we must recognize water as a universal human right, rather than a commodity reserved for the few. Whether in Jackson, Flint, Tribal lands, or beyond, the struggle for water is a shared one.” Farrah Hassen J.D., is a writer, policy analyst, and adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science at Cal Poly Pomona.
29) California: In the Imperial Valley, El Centro has opened a new 19,000 square foot public library. “City Manager Marcela Piedra delivered the opening remarks. She was followed by El Centro City Mayor Tomás Oliva; Library and Community Services Board Chairperson Victor Zazueta; Interim Director Patricia Crosby, , and Library Systems & Services Director, Service Delivery; Library Systems & Services Vice President Heidi Dolamore; Director of State Government Affairs Michael Hadland. When Roland Banks retired in 2019 as library director, the city partnered with Library Systems & Services (LS&S) who provided an interim library director, Patricia Crosby.”
30) Montana: The Daily Montanan reports that a disability rights organization “is challenging the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services’ decision not to release any hiring information pertaining to Mike Randol who was hired this summer as the state’s Medicaid and health services executive director. (…) Randol previously oversaw Medicaid programs in Iowa and Kansas, both of which moved to privatization or ‘managed care’ models. Montana used a managed care system in the 1990s, but reassumed Medicaid administration when that care proved worse for patients and providers. DPHHS declined to provide any of Randol’s application materials, including resume or interview questions, saying that they were protected by the state’s constitutional right to privacy, according to the lawsuit. However, the lawsuit, filed by Niki Zupanic of Upper Seven Law, said the department failed to take into account the ‘balancing test’ established by state courts and case law, which requires public agencies to weigh the public’s right to know against privacy interests.”
31) Tennessee: Nearly half of all new Tennessee Department of Children’s Services caseworkers quit within their first year, Commissioner Margie Quin told a budget meeting to request increased funding to raise departmental salaries. “Quin also requested $11.4 million for private provider case management as DCS struggles to keep its head above water due to the staffing shortages. The commissioner said Tennessee did not want to move toward full-time privatization, but a stop-gap measure was needed as DCS worked to increase hiring and retention and meet its case management requirements.”
32) International: The Biden administration has pledged at the COP27 climate change conference to help 18 partner countries to achieve net-zero emissions from national government operations by no later than 2050. “The Net-Zero Government Initiative demonstrates that there is a growing global consensus about the role of governments in the transition,” said Secretary Kerry. “Through this Initiative, countries’ governments lead by example and send multi-market demand signals for clean technology, products and services that will spur markets.”
33) National: How will the upheaval at Twitter affect government services? “States and localities have come to depend on the social media platform to get information out in emergencies and other situations. But a surge in imposter accounts has some worried.”
34) National: Robert Reich has some numbers and a suggestion: Average list price for a unit of insulin:
“Isn’t it time America hold Big Pharma accountable for its extortion?”
35) National: Sam Seder had a terrific show with guests Walt Bogdanich and Michael Forsythe, investigative reporters with the New York Times, to discuss their recent book When McKinsey Comes to Town: The Hidden Influence of the World’s Most Powerful Consulting Firm. Among the issues discussed was McKinsey’s role and influence in the public sector and the issue of transparency, accountability and conflicts of interest. [Video, begins at 31:00]
36) California: KQED’s The California Report Magazine had an in-depth program on immigrant detainees’ continuing strike over “slavery” wages of $1 a Day, while reporting retaliation. [Audio, about 30 minutes].
37) New York: Privatizing public trees? Private security companies are putting surveillance cameras in trees on public streets, raising civil liberties and privatization issues. “In recent months, security contractors have quietly drilled electronic “tokens” into the trunks of city street trees. Guards scan the trackers with their phones, providing real-time data on the status of their patrols. Security providers touted the devices as an effective accountability tool—a way to assure clients they are keeping a close eye on their assets. But as the arboreal checkpoints gain popularity, both tree lovers and surveillance skeptics are raising concerns. “They’re totally wounding the tree,” said Justin Rawson, an arborist in Brooklyn. “Even if they can withstand it, no one should be doing this to city trees.” A spokesperson for the city’s parks department confirmed they were aware of the trackers, which violate the city’s law against defacing trees. But that hasn’t stopped private companies, some of whom are contracted by the city, from taking advantage of the urban forestry. And it appears unlikely the city will issue violations, according to the parks department.”
38) International: As the World Cup kicks off with a right wing diatribe by FIFA’s head against critics of Qatar’s human rights record and FIFA’s complicity, here’s a tough response. [Video, about 6 minutes]
Photo by Kevin Hackert.